The main opposition CPN-UML is holding its 10th General Convention (GC) in Chitwan from November 26-28 to elect a new set of leaders.
Having concluded its Statute Convention in the first week of October, the sole purpose of this convention is to come up with a new set of party leaders for the next five years. Incumbent Chairman KP Sharma Oli is sure to be chosen party chair for another term but he is unlikely to be elected unopposed as leader Bhim Rawal has also announced his candidacy for the same post.
Via this conference, Oli intends to give a message of strength following the UML’s vertical split, with senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal forming a breakaway party. Oli wants to give a psychological message that the Nepal-led faction’s exit has not damaged the party much. That is why PM Oli did not invite anyone from Nepal’s CPN (Unified Socialist) at the GC’s inaugural session even as leaders of other parties were invited.
Addressing a press conference in Kathmandu on November 23 that was organized to inform about the GC, Oli said that as Nepal had been expelled from the party a few months ago, there was no question of extending an invite. By not extending an invitation, the party is symbolically denying the existence of Nepal’s new outfit. Says a leader, if Nepal is invited to the inaugural session, it will cement the message of party-split among the rank and file as he would be addressing in the capacity of the head of a separate party.
For the same purpose, the party is desperate to bring a large number of cadres to Chitwan from across the country in order to show its strength. “We aim to gather at least half a million cadres in the inaugural session. Some party leaders and cadres have left but thousands of other cadres are joining,” said Oli, highlighting the mother party’s continued strength.
According to party leaders, attempts are being made to gather more cadres than in the previous general convention. There is no good data on how much damage CPN-UML suffered from the split. The only clear indicator is that about 10 percent of local representatives from CPN-UML have deserted to Nepal’s party.
Political analysts say though PM Oli is trying to downplay the effects of the party split considering the impending three-tier elections, the reality is different. Says political analyst Vijaya Kant Karna, it is the tendency of left leaders not to accept the existence of a breakaway party. “Though PM Oli is trying to give an impression that the party has not suffered, effects of the split are already visible. UML leaders are saying that around 30 percent of cadres have switched to the Nepal faction, which is going to hit the party hard in the upcoming elections,” he says. After the party split, UML lost its share in all six provincial governments.
Oli is all set to become chairman either unopposed or after an election. Leaders close to Oli have already started consultations with Rawal, asking him to withdraw his candidacy to elect Oli unopposed. Speaking to media persons, Oli, however, said that he welcomes the democratic process and would not object if any leader chose to contest him.
Then there is the question of the election of second-rung leaders. For instance the race for party vice-chair is heating up between Subash Nembang, Ishwar Pokhrel, Shanker Pokhrel, Bishnu Poudel, and Ram Bahadur Thapa. They are all seeking Oli’s blessings.
However, Oli made it clear that he would not choose some leaders over others. His message was clear enough: “I would not take the side of any leader. There should either be consensus among the aspirants or you have to contest intra-party elections.” The bottom-line is that Oli wants to go into the three-tier elections with his party intact after the general convention.